As parents, we all strive to provide the best developmental opportunities for our children. Helping your child learn a second language is just such an opportunity.
There is a narrow window, generally considered between 6 months and 6 years of age, where one's capacity to acquire language and the benefits from doing so are greatest. Researchers have identified a number of benefits from early 2nd language exposure, including:
- Building foreign language comprehension and speech
- Improving English verbal and listening skills
- Strengthening math and analytical skills
- Increasing exposure to new cultures and different backgrounds
- Building self-esteem
In addition, many English words share Latin roots with Spanish, French and other romance languages, and if children know the foreign words, then they can analyze the meaning of English words. Researchers have shown that this ability leads to higher scores on the verbal portions of college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT.
The importance of "starting early" has been widely reported by a number of major publications:
"The ability to learn a second language is highest between birth and the age of six, then undergoes a steady and inexorable decline." – Time Magazine
"Learning a second language enhances a child's awareness of her primary one. And the similarities and differences between the languages help her understand the sounds, the words, and the rules for putting sentences together." – Parent Magazine, "The Best Baby Classes"
Researchers found that part of the explanation for why children more easily acquired second language is do the fact that "...adults who learned two languages as very young children stored both languages in the sa me part of the brain. Those who acquired a second language in adolescence used a separate region of the brain." – Bilingual Baby
"Early exposure to a second language actually grows more connections in the baby's brain, researchers believe." – Wall Street Journal
"Research has shown that young children have a virtually limitless capacity to learn languages. Children need real, interactive experiences, not virtual ones, for brain develop me nt and academic success. New studies on brain develop me nt indicate that early exposure to more than one language builds a more powerful brain, with faster and more efficient synaptic connections." – Newsweek
"...more parents and educators are acting on the research findings that show studying a foreign language actually increases a child's English language skills." – Detroit Free Press
As the world becomes a smaller and smaller place, the benefits of speaking more than one language become even greater. Whether it is simply communicating more effectively with native-speaking relatives or eventually opening doors to job opportunities in the global economy, speaking multiple languages will provide tangible benefits for your child in the future.
If you would like more detail on the benefits of learning a foreign language, please visit the following websites:
Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL)
http://www.cal.org or http://www.cal.org/earlylang/front.htm
Bilingual Parenting in a Foreign Language http://www.byu.edu/~bilingua/index.html
National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL) http://www.nnell.org/